Rider remembers life without Metro

Robert Thomson
Columnist April 20, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I’ve been seeing readers’ comments about Metrorail. However, I haven’t seen anybody voice my complaints.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Our subway system is a nightmare for the visually or hearing impaired.

I am not impaired, but 90 percent of the time I cannot hear what the operators in the trains are saying. The sound system is horrible — mostly too low and soft, or super-muffled.

For those who are hearing-impaired, it is nearly impossible to know where they are. Only one or two cars I’ve ever ridden have the red lights saying what the stops are. I was told the new cars will all have these lighted signs. How long before the new cars come, then?

My last complaint could possibly save lives: Signs need to be placed in every station that say, ‘No running on the escalators.’ Some people run down the escalators like they’re in a marathon. Haven’t they heard about the time the escalator stopped without warning and people were thrown about? Those running like mad will fall, hitting the rest of us, and we will all go down like bowling pins.

— Diane Gibbs, The District

The writer, a daily Red Line rider, actually is voicing some common complaints. Metro is moving in the right direction in the design of its new rail cars, the ones that will replace the oldest 300 in the fleet. The new cars will have panels that highlight the station stop and coming stations. Automated announcements will replace operator announcements.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles often points out that as stations go through rehabilitation, they’re getting brighter lights. So it’s becoming easier to see the signs.

All this helps the average rider, but it’s particularly important to people with limited hearing or sight. And the visual and audio guidance will be particularly important to everyone later this spring when Metro starts rearranging rush-hour service on the Blue, Orange and Yellow lines, increasing the chance that riders will board the wrong train.

Of course, the new cars won't be here this year. The improvements I just mentioned occur slowly — quite unlike the travel speed of the people Gibbs sees on the escalators. Metro discourages people from running anywhere in the system. Running on the escalators is dangerous to the riders, and it can bust the escalators. (Yes, they’re that fragile.)

Later trains?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If the D.C. Council votes to let bars stay open till 4 a.m. on weekends, will that put pressure on Metro to run trains an extra hour? Can Metro afford that?

— Sue Ruff, The District

No, Metro can't afford that, and service hours won’t be extended anytime soon. It’s not just the cost of running the late-night trains. Metro’s aggressive maintenance program eats up all those hours when there is no passenger service.

It could be worse

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I read complaints about Metrorail, I wonder: Doesn’t anyone remember when we didn’t have it? Getting around on buses was doable but a lot harder in many ways.

Whatever the problems now, how about remembering when there was no Metrorail and being grateful that we have it now?

— June R. Wyman, Gaithersburg

Metrorail is the D.C. region’s greatest transportation asset. It moves hundreds of thousands of people a day and organizes the development of communities. We certainly have plenty of complaints about Metro’s performance, but we’ll pay a premium to live near it.

The paying customers have a right to complain, and they frequently exercise that right. But even the complaints and the concerns indicate various ways in which the system is woven into the fabric of daily life.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.comdrgridlock@washpost.com.

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